Growing number of government lawyers hope to leave as pay satisfaction falls

Nearly a third of Government Legal Department officials want to leave within a year and just one in ten are happy with pay and benefits, according to latest People Survey data
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By Tevye Markson

20 Dec 2022

Close to a third of government lawyers want to leave their jobs within a year amid growing anger in the Government Legal Department over pay.

Civil Service People Survey 2022 results for the GLD, seen by CSW, shows 30% of lawyers working for the organisation want to leave within a year, a seven percentage point increase on 2021 figures.

The results also show deep unhappiness with pay levels, with just 9% saying they were satisfied with their pay and benefits, compared to 13% a year ago.

A government lawyer, who has worked for at the GLD for around 15 years, told CSW the organisation is “in chaos”.

“Like central government departments, our pay has gone through the floor the last few years,” they said.

“The workload is crippling and many lawyers are signed off with stress long-term which means everyone else has to pick up their work.

“Whilst my colleagues are a joy to work with, it’s overall a very depressing place to work and everyone I know that isn't on the path to retirement is looking to leave and work elsewhere.”

The official also said they were surprised the figure of 30% wanting to leave their jobs was not significantly more.

More than 2,000 GLD lawyers, representing 59% of the organisations’ workforce, responded to the survey.

One in ten respondents said they wanted to leave the organisation "as soon as possible", compared to 7% in 2021, while 20% said they want to leave within the next 12 months, a four percentage point increase from last year.

‘Better pay’ was the main reason given for wanting to leave, with 500 officials choosing this as a reason. The next closest reason was ‘organisational culture’ which had 160 mentions.

Some 81% of respondents said they felt their pay does not reflect their performance, a seven percentage points increase compared to a year ago.

And just 10% of respondents said they were satisfied with their overall benefits package, compared to 14% in 2021.

The results also show significant and growing numbers of GLD lawyers feel their pay is unfavourable compared to their peers. Some 85% of respondents said they did not feel their pay was reasonable compared to people doing a similar job in other organisations, compared to 81% who said this in 2021.

The figures mirror feelings across the civil service, with cabinet secretary Simon Case telling officials last week acknowledging civil servants' anger over pay after a 2-3% pay increase this year following a decade of real-terms pay cuts.

Pay dissatisfaction and desire to leave have both jumped in the overall cross-department People Survey scores, according to figures published by The Times.

Across the whole of the civil service, 22% said they wanted to leave within 12 months, compared to 20% in 2021, and 28% were satisfied with pay and benefits, a drop of 11 percentage points, The Times said.

However, discontent among government lawyers appears to be stronger than the average department: the proportion wanting to leave the GLD within a year is eight percentage points higher and the portion happy with pay and benefits is 19 percentage points lower than the civil service average.

The GLD has pursued a pay business case with the Cabinet Office and Treasury for several years to improve pay and overcome recruitment issues at the department, with a deal falling through in 2020 when Jonathan Jones resigned as head of the department. 

A GLD spokeperson said the department has "submitted a strong pay business case to ministers" for this year and is awaiting a decision. 

“We are in no doubt about the strength of feeling around pay and we remain committed to pushing for improved pay.  At the same time we are continuing to examine all elements of our total remuneration package," the spokeperson said.

The GLD said the department's People Survey scores " reflect the complex landscape we operate against", adding that the past year "has shown the resilience of GLD as it has continued to deliver for the government and citizens".

Feedback from the survey will help to highlight ways the department can improve and "inform how it tackles the challenges it faces",  the GLD added.

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